Thirsty for RV adventures? Adding a portable solar panel to your RV might just be the next best upgrade your RV needs. Solar has the power to give you more freedom to explore uncharted territories without having to worry about finding a campsite with a hookup.
You have a generator you say? You may still need to install a portable solar panel to get the most out of your off-grid adventures as solar is less invasive than a generator. And while getting a solar panel kit may seem like a daunting task, it really isn’t if you know what to look for.
UNDERSTANDING PORTABLE SOLAR PANELS
So, you’re considering adding a portable solar panel kit to your RV? That’s one of the best investments you can make for your RV and yourself. Let’s take a look at some things you need to know and consider before you take the plunge.
Why you need solar power
Solar panels are a very ingenious system that converts solar energy into electrical energy. That electrical energy then gets stored in your batteries. But why would you need solar since most RV parks offer excellent amenities that include power hookups?
There are two main reasons why solar power is something every RVer should consider.
The first is that solar is one of the best ways to recharge your RV’s batteries. It provides a slow, steady charge that actually helps prolong the life of your batteries. That’s good news to anyone who owns an RV, 12-volt marine/deep-cell batteries are a big expense.
The second and probably most important reason you need to consider solar power is that it is a green power source – and it’s unlimited. If you love enjoying the best that nature has, go for solar because it doesn’t leave any footprint on the beautiful parks you want to explore. And the fact that it’s green means it’s also quiet. So there’s no scaring away the beautiful wildlife you want to enjoy. This is a stark contrast when you compare solar to noisy generators that burn fossil fuel.
How a portable solar panel works
Portable solar panels convert sunlight into electricity. When the sunlight hits the panels, it gets converted into an electric current. The electric current feeds into a charge controller. That is a critical component of your portable solar panel kit as it controls the amount of current that goes to your battery. The batteries store the current and release it as DC. The DC is then converted into AC by an inverter.
It's a simple system that produces tremendous results.
PICKING THE RIGHT SOLAR PANEL SIZE
Portable solar panels come in different sizes that supply different amounts of power to your personal electric grid in the RV. The size of the portable solar panel that will be best suited for your RV needs to support the appliances you usually run in your RV.
One simple way to determine the size of the panel you need is to monitor your average battery usage on a typical day. Most RVs have a voltage meter to help you identify how much battery you use. Once you know your usage, it can guide your decision as to what size panel you need. For example, if you run a 100Ah battery bank and you use 50 percent in two days, it means you consume 25Ah a day. You will then need a panel big enough to produce at least that much.
To put it in perspective, if your solar panel is rated 100 Watts and you use it to charge a 12V battery, it will produce 8.33 amps (Watts/voltage = amps). If your battery is rated 100Ahr and it is 50% discharged, it will take your solar panel six hours to make it back to full capacity (Amp hours/amp).
This simple calculation will help you determine the most suitable portable solar panel for you. Not so complicated after all, is it?
A Primer on the Two Types of Solar Panels
One thing you need to know before you jump and grab the nearest portable solar panel is that not all solar panels are the same. Besides the size and output factor, there are the types of panels themselves. While there are many different types of solar panels, there are two that feature the most in portable solar panels.
Mono-Crystalline solar panels
Mono-Crystalline solar panels feature a single continuous crystal structure. They are easily recognizable by their uniform coloration and uniform look. That is an indicator of high-purity silicon.
Their biggest advantage is that they have a higher level of effectiveness when it comes to converting solar energy into electrical energy. Their efficiency rating is between 15 and 20 percent. However, because of the higher purity and more complex method of producing them, they are more expensive.
Poly-Crystalline solar panels
Poly-Crystalline solar panels, on the other hand, are made up of many square shaped silicon cells. Manufacturers make them by pouring raw silicone into a square mold. The silicon is then cooled and then cut into squares that are joined together to make a panel. This type of panel features a checkered design.
The biggest advantages of poly-crystalline panels are that they are cheaper and generally have a longer lifespan. However, they have a big disadvantage in that they are less efficient in converting solar energy into electrical energy. Their efficiency rating is 13 to 16 percent. And you will notice the difference on cloudy days.
GETTING A PORTABLE SOLAR PANEL FOR YOUR RV -- YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Still considering getting a portable solar panel but not sure since you still have some unanswered questions? Well, let’s answer those questions for you then, shall we? That will help you make an informed decision you won’t regret.
HOW LONG CAN I GO RUNNING ON SOLAR?
Solar panels are a way of creating electricity from the sun. They don't store electricity nor do they supply your appliances directly. It's your batteries that determine how long you can go without needing another charge as they are the ones that store the electricity. That is why it we recommend that you use deep cycle batteries as they are designed to store more electricity and only discharge the amount needed. They also have the advantage of being able to withstand more charge and discharge cycles than your normal starter battery, giving them a longer lifespan.
But the short version of the story is that as long as there’s sunlight, you can harvest solar power and convert it into electricity.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I EXPECT TO SPEND ON A PORTABLE SOLAR PANEL?
The amount of money you spend on a portable solar panel kit will depend on the size and output of the solar panel kit as well as the manufacturer. However, portable solar panel kits run the gamut from $100 to $1000.
How We Reviewed Each Portable Solar Panel
Before you pick your portable solar panel kit, it’s important that you know how we reviewed each kit. This will give you the confidence to trust the integrity of the review.
Our first criteria in coming up with this review were the build quality and technical specifications of the kit itself. Secondly, we considered the reviews of users. These help paint a clear picture of how easy (or difficult) it is to live with these kits.
Now that you know you can trust the efficacy of these solar panel kits, let’s go ahead and find you the best one for your needs.
The Best Portable Solar Panel -- 5 Electrifying Picks
The list of solar panels below is a distilled list of the best units available on the market. That will definitely help take out most of the legwork involved in searching for the best solar panels for your needs.
The Eco-Worthy 120W/12V foldable portable solar panel kit is one of the best portable solar panels on the market. That is if you are looking for a good budget kit. This is a plug-and-play mono-crystalline portable solar panel that folds up into a suitcase for easy carry. All you have to do is unfold it and plug it to your “grid.” This kit comes with a pre-installed 15 amp charge controller and prewired for a 12-volt system.
Because it is a foldable version, it comes with two 60 watt panels. The kit also comes with 10 feet of connecting cables with alligator clips. That makes it easy for you to park your RV in the shade as you can position your solar panel away from your RV and in the sun.
This portable solar panel kit has a 4.0 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon and will set you back $180 to $220. A real steal since there are no installation charges to budget for.
If there is a brand that is making great strides in the field of portable solar panels, Renogy is it. The Renogy 100W Eclipse Solar Suitcase is one of their portable solar panel kits you should definitely consider for your off-grid adventures.
This is a state-of-the-art portable solar panel kit that comes with features galore for the savvy camper. This compact kit weighs a mere 19.4-pounds, but it’s certainly up to the task of supplying all your electrical needs as you enjoy the serenity of…, well, wherever you go when you disappear. The two 50 watt panels are highly-efficient mono-crystalline solar cells. The system comes fitted with an advanced 30 amp waterproof charge controller with an LCD screen for easy monitoring and a 10-foot cable for connecting to your battery. Other features include a temperature sensor and a battery voltage sensor, both essential in ensuring your safety and the safety of your equipment. A protective casing encloses them for safe transportation.
The Eclipse Solar Suitcase is has a 4.4 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon. It doesn’t come cheap though, as is to be expected from such a feature rich piece of equipment. If this portable solar panel kit appeals to you, be prepared to fork out $350 to $450.
While the 160 watts rated Zamp 160P portable solar panel kit may be more on the larger side for RV use, it has its advantage in that it is more than able to adequately supply your energy needs if you dare go out in winter.
With the capability to supply enough power to run a 12-volt pump, TV, fans, and a couple more appliances, the Zamp 160P portable solar panel will afford you the basic luxuries that truly make an RV a home away from home. While the Zamp 160P is plug and play, it has the disadvantage of a being a bit heavier than the other options on this list, coming in at 42 pounds. However, it does come with a longer-than-average 16-foot cable so you can position it right in the sun so as to avoid moving it around too much. The kit also comes with a 15 amp LCD display charge controller.
The Zamp 160P is not only the biggest portable solar panel on our list but is also the most expensive. Output and price are directly proportional after all. This portable solar panel kit will burn a $600 to $700-sized hole in your pocket. The Zamp 160P has an impressive 4.8 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon.
Go Power! Truly lives up to its name in the solar energy solutions circles as the company is a powerhouse. The Go Power! GP-PSK-80 is one of the best portable solar panels as far as striking the balance between price and performance is concerned.
This system from Go Power! Is the true definition of a portable solar panel kit. Despite being small, and easy to move around, the two 40 watt panels are able to supply a steady 4.4 amps per hour. That’s enough to keep your batteries topped up while you’re boondocking. The kit comes with connection cables and fitted with a 10 amp charge controller. This portable solar panel kit is so easy to use it will only take you a couple of minutes to fully set up.
The Go Power! GP-PSK-80 is the smallest kit and offers a smaller output compared to the other panels on the list. But it costs more than other panels like the Eco-Worthy’s 120-watt iteration. The reason is simple -- you are paying for quality. $350 to $400 worth of quality for this portable solar panel kit that has a 4.1 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon.
If you need a portable solar panel to supply you a lot of juice in order to bring a couple of luxuries along with you, the WindyNation 200W solar charging kit is a great option.
This polycrystalline kit that comes with two 100 watt panels, a 20 amp LCD display charge controller, a whopping 40-feet of cable with connectors, and brackets for mounting. Yes, this portable solar panel kit is different from the other kits on this list in more ways than one.
The 200-watt WindyNation portable solar panel kit is a real bargain at $350 to $450. And the 4.5 out of 5 stars Amazon rating is a testament of that.
Power Up -- The Best Portable Solar Panel Kit for Your RV
Choosing the best portable solar panel kit for your next adventure has just become easier. Especially with all the knowledge you have just gained. If your budget is flexible, Renogy is an excellent company that will supply you with some of the best solar equipment. However, if you’re running on a tight budget, Eco-Worthy have some excellent budget-friendly options for you to consider.
Go ahead. Get yourself a portable solar panel kit. Adventure awaits.